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England batting fails again to leave India in the box seat

E

ngland began the Third Test by winning the toss – but that was just about the last good news they received.

By stumps, having batted first, they were just 13 in front. They were bundled out for 112, with India’s spinners preying on the weaknesses of their batsmen. They then watched India ease into their first innings, with Rohit Sharma making another fine fifty.

When Virat Kohli gave his wicket away trying to cut Jack Leach in the final five minutes of the day – even even after being given a life by a simple Ollie Pope drop – England’s reaction was of a frustration released, rather than a rush of joy.

Their tempers were fraying, unsurprisingly, because of their own poor performance, because their seamers struggled with the footholds, and because marginal umpiring calls – and indeed the procedure that led to those calls – were going against them, particularly with a late stumping of Rohit.

To compound matters, they would have had the very strong sense that, on a dry pitch, the have the balance of their attack wrong and the even stronger sense that, in these conditions, they are simply not in the same class as India.

That starts with selection. While India – normally good judges of their own surfaces – stuck with two seamers and three spinners on a dry surface, England replaced the homebound spinner Moeen Ali with a seamer. That left Leach as their only frontline spinner, and betrays a significant lack of confidence in Dom Bess. England, having left out Chris Woakes, Mark Wood and Olly Stone, feel they have seamers coming out of their ears, but just do not have the spinners required.

But the balance of your attack does not matter too much if you are bowled out for 112 so quickly that India do not even use one of their spinners. With the exception of Zak Crawley, who made a delightful 53 in the opening session, England’s batting was timid, allowing Axar Patel – who took six for 38 – and Ravichandran Ashwin to prey on their uncertainty. England’s batsmen were done in the flight, or by the balls that did not spin that followed the ones that ragged hard.

Crawley – who made a top score of just 13 in four innings in Sri Lanka – played a delightful hand, stroking 10 boundaries in front of square. But wickets fell around him, and then he got caught up in a collapse of eight for 48.

Dom Sibley and Jonny Bairstow fell early for ducks (the former caught at second slip off Ishant Sharma on his 100th Test), before Crawley and Joe Root shared 47, the only substantial partnership. But both men fell shortly before lunch, then Pope and Ben Stokes were gone within two overs after it. Ben Foakes was last man out, having been unable to push the score on much with the tail.

England bowled pretty well in their five overs before the evening break, conceding just five runs and almost having Shubman Gill caught at slip for 0. After the break, Gill survived a tight lbw review from Stuart Broad while spending 27 balls on a duck. He got off it, but soon skied Jofra Archer to midwicket. Leach followed up by dismissing Cheteshwar Pujara for the third innings in a row.

Sharma and Kohli came together, and pushed the score on, frustrating England. Pope, having almost created a blinding chance at short leg off Leach, dropped a dolly in the gully off Jimmy Anderson. Leach put that right at no great cost, but England still have it all to do.


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